2014-04-30 / Front Page

Whitestone Jubilee

BY JASON D. ANTOS


Photo Jason D. Antos Photo Jason D. Antos On the eve of the 75th anniversary of the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, area residents are recognizing another diamond jubilee for a structure that is as revolutionary and iconic as the fair itself.

The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge opened to traffic on Apr. 29, 1939 to much fanfare and excitement. Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 people from a grandstand near today’s 6th Avenue and Cross Island Parkway service road and President Franklin D. Roosevelt crossed over the span the following day on his way to Flushing Meadows to attend the opening of the fair. Also on that day, ferry service from College Point and Malba to Clason Point in The Bronx ceased operation after carrying people over the Flushing River for more than a century.

“The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge holds a significant place in New York City history,” MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast said. “Since its opening on Apr. 29, 1939, an incredible 2.2 billion vehicles have crossed the span and more than seven decades later it continues to play a vital role in New York City and the entire metropolitan region.”


Opening Day of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge as seen from the Whitestone/Malba side on Apr. 29, 1939. 
Photo Collection of Jason D. Antos Opening Day of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge as seen from the Whitestone/Malba side on Apr. 29, 1939. Photo Collection of Jason D. Antos The idea for a crossing between The Bronx and Whitestone had come as early as 1905. At the time, residents around the proposed area of the bridge protested construction in fear of losing the then-rural character of the community.

In 1929, however, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) had proposed another bridge from The Bronx to Northern Queens to allow motorists from Upstate New York and New England to reach Queens and Long Island without traveling through the traffic-ridden communities of Western Queens.

On Feb. 25, 1930, influential city planner Robert Moses proposed a Ferry Point Park- Whitestone Bridge as a part of his Belt Parkway system around Brooklyn and Queens.

As the Belt Parkway system (which also includes the Cross Island Parkway) continued with its development, Moses found his bridge increasingly necessary to directly link the mainland to the 1939 New York World’s Fair and to LaGuardia Airport (then known as North Beach Airport). In addition, the Whitestone Bridge was to provide congestion relief to the Triborough Bridge in Astoria.

The New York legislature approved Moses’ plan in April, 1937. As it was with most of his projects, Moses caused controversy when it became necessary to demolish 17 homes on the boarder of Malba and Whitestone.

The RPA had also said that the Whitestone Bridge should have rail connections, or at least be able to accommodate them in the future, but had no allies on the project, to Moses’ relief.

Special banners issued by the MTA in observation of The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge's 75th Anniversary have been placed on the Whitestone and Bronx side of the span.Special banners issued by the MTA in observation of The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge's 75th Anniversary have been placed on the Whitestone and Bronx side of the span.Designer Othmar Ammann had several plans for the bridge that would keep construction on its tight schedule. The construction of the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge moved along with exceptional speed. The two 377-foot towers were constructed in a short 18 days and were the first to have no diagonal cross-bracing.

The bridge featured pedestrian walkways, as well as four lanes of vehicular traffic, which carried 17,000 vehicles per day during the year 1940. The toll was 25 cents. The 2,300 foot (700 m) center span was the fourth-longest in the world at the opening.

Unlike other suspension bridges, the Bronx- Whitestone Bridge did not have a stiffening truss system. This proved to be a poor decision in planning and development as demonstrated in the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington state. The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge used the same general design as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. To mitigate the risk of failure from high winds, eight stay cables (two per tower per side) were installed for added stability in 1940.

Starting in 1943, the pedestrian walkways were removed from the bridge, allowing for vehicular traffic expansion by the creation of two more vehicular lanes. In 2003, the Metropolitan Transit Authority restored the classic lines of the bridge by removing the stiffening trusses and installing fiberglass fairing along both sides of the road deck.

The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge still stands as an architectural triumph and local icon and with constant upgrades and renovation, residents are looking forward to 2039 for the centennial celebration.

  

Return to top

Copyright 1999-2019 The Service Advertising Group, Inc. All rights reserved.